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Sunday, 18 December 2011

A Cautionary Tale: The Typewriter sold on eBay in Melbourne while still sitting on a shelf in Minnesota

Alan Seaver's photograph of his Optima P1 portable typewriter
which was included in the Melbourne eBay listing
The Optima P1 portable typewriter which
is in Alan Seaver's home in Minnesota.
Does it look slightly similar to you?
Ending my “On This Day in Typewriter History” series in September left a massive gap in my life. I fell right through it and struggled to get back up for air.
One night in the middle of October, feeling quite the opposite to what Townes Van Zandt once called “zippity do dah”, I felt the need to cheer myself up by buying a nice typewriter.
I had a quick scan through what was available on Australian eBay and found just the thing. It was a green Optima P1 portable typewriter exactly like the one Richard Polt had once owned in Cincinnati and is now owned by Alan Seaver, in Rochester, Minnesota.
The eBay item number is 150672343105 and you can still see the listing on eBay.
Both Richard and Alan knew well how much I had admired that machine and wished to own one like it.
The green Optima P1 was listed at a “Buy it Now” price of $A45.99 with postage of $35. The price, though not the postage, seemed very, very reasonable to me at the time and in my excitement I hit the “Buy it Now” link and committed myself.
I went to bed that night feeling a bit brighter about the world and thinking how much the typewriter looked like Alan Seaver’s.
The next morning I woke up to myself, as the awful truth had dawned on me that the typewriter I thought I’d bought WAS Alan Seaver’s.
Naturally, I sprang into action, messaging the seller, both through the eBay messaging system and by email. I had the seller’s email address because, of course, it was attached to my invoice.
There was, for several days, no response from the seller, after I had pointed out to him that not alone was the photograph he used with the listing one taken by Alan and included on his website, but indeed the typewriter itself was still in Alan’s possession. The seller had even gone to the trouble of putting his own watermark on Alan’s photograph.
Eventually, some days later, I got this reply: “I am not sure as to who Alan Seaver is, and how we have his typewriter, we never said we have "his typewriter". I have never even heard of Alan Seaver or what he has to do with any of this. Bill Balatli.”
In the meantime, I had alerted both Alan and Richard to what had happened. Alan responded: “I just checked the shelf to make sure it hadn't escaped and swum across the Pacific.”
As frustrating as all this was for me at the time, having committed myself to buy and with the seller playing dumb about the item he had listed as his to sell, it was nothing compared to trying to get some real assistance or satisfaction from eBay.
Some of you may have experienced this difficulty, in first finding anyone to communicate with at eBay, and secondly in getting eBay to act in any way on such an obvious listing infringement.
When I eventually managed to get hold of someone to talk to at eBay, the key issue appeared to be whether this item was “unique”. In other words, eBay was unconvinced that I would know for certain that this typewriter listed for sale in Melbourne was the actual typewriter owned by Alan Seaver in Minnesota. Explanations about the small, tight worldwide community of typewriter collectors, about us being in close contact with one another and about the movement or ownership of certain, specific typewriters, seemed to hold no water with eBay.
One eBay customer support message read, “I hope you're having a great Sunday [they were kidding, right?] and thanks for writing eBay. I know you are worried about an item you've won from seller billbalatli. I'm Ron and I will definitely help you with this.” I’m here to tell you Ron definitely DID not help me.
Another “cheery” message from eBay’s Trust and Safety team read: “Hello there, thanks for writing back to eBay with regard to the seller of this item, whom you believe is using someone’s Item Picture. My name is Reeve, let me look into this for you. I want to thank you for letting us know about this and helping us to keep eBay the safest market place online. Please be assured that we will conduct thorough investigation on billbalatli's account. We take your report seriously and we won't tolerate members with such inappropriate behaviour and take action when necessary. You may not immediately notice or be able to see these actions, but they can include removing a listing, sending the member a warning, limiting buying and selling privileges, or even suspending the account.
“I hope I've put you at ease. You've been an extremely valuable member of the eBay community and I do hope that all of your future endeavours with us are not only pleasant, but successful as well.”
What utter bullshit. eBay is next to useless in situations such as this, always has been, always will be. The “best” advice I received from eBay was to not pay for the item, but to wait until the seller cancelled the transaction, then take up the issue.
Duly, two weeks after my commitment to buy, eBay advised me it had opened an unpaid item dispute. “If payment isn't received by October 31 [four days hence] the seller may withdraw from the contract and you would no longer be entitled to receive this item.” Wow, I was not entitled to received Alan Seaver’s typewriter?! What about Bill Balatli's entitlement to sell Alan Seaver’s typewriter?
Surprise, surprise. But here was the real bottom line: “Additionally, an unpaid item may be recorded on your account, which could lead to your account being suspended.”
On November 7, eBay advised: “Payment for this item hasn't been received during the past 24 days. billbalatli has cancelled the transaction, and you're no longer entitled to receive the item. Also, an unpaid Item has been recorded on your account.”
So I finished up being penalised, with my eBay account negatively effected, by a man in Melbourne listing for sale as his a typewriter owned and possessed by Alan Seaver in Minnesota! Where’s the justice there, I wonder?
What eBay never accepted was that I knew with 100 per cent certainty that this particular typewriter had been bought by Richard Polt in Cincinnati on from an Austrian seller. Then it had traded hands to Alan “the old-fashioned way” at Richard’s house the previous northern summer.
Richard has since tried very hard to help me buy one of these models, on the German eBay. However, the seller accepted a local offer and ended the auction well before the listed date. One of these days I will have in my eager hands one of these Optima P1s, but it won’t be through Bill Balatli, trading as iPC-TEK, 1477 Centre Road, Clayton, Victoria, ABN: 39 093 809 216.
My great wish is that Bill Balatli sees this post and sues me. Then the fox shall be lured from his den.
In Canberra this year, we had an eBay trader found guilty in court and heavily fined for selling horse saddles on eBay she did not in fact own. But this was as a result of legal action taken by the buyers, it had nothing to do with eBay itself. The more this sort of thing happens, the more chance eBay, though not of its own accord, will become once more a safe place for suckers such as I to do business. For the time being, eBay simply refuses to be in any way held accountable for illegal trading being carried on through its services.


Rob Bowker said...

Sympathies. You should be able to make a new account pretty easily. Just use a different e-mail address, change your name to Bob etc. You don't suppose the seller really did have an Optima, but is in the habit of using library stock to advertise his goods. It is certainly common practice for electronics in the UK. Typewriter ribbons, too, come to that. I have to admit that for anything over £10, I always engage in some banter with the seller. Build a relationship. After all, eBay's not a shop, it is just another social network - just one where members can sell and buy stuff. Still, nobody likes getting stuffed like that.

Richard P said...

I see that they are selling a couple of printers right now and obviously using what Rob calls "library stock" photos. In cases where there is a single generic look to a product, and it is being sold new, this is arguably OK. But when it comes to an old item, it's of course necessary for us to see the actual specimen. Plus, they were selling an Optima 34 (whatever that is) and didn't bother to compare it closely to the image of a P1 they found online. Sloppy, careless selling at best -- and then to act callously when you complained ... Tch tch.

We'll get you a P1 someday, not too worry.

Robert Messenger said...

Thanks Rob and Richard. Rob, yes, as Richard rightly points out, the seller did probably have an Optima typewriter for sale, but whatever it was, it would have looked nothing like the green P1. I should have been a lot less impetuous, I suppose, because in hindsight I was so familiar with the Richard-Alan P1, and yet in my excitement I jumped at it.

notagain said...

I guess I'm wired differently. I would have completed the deal, compiling all the damning evidence such as photo sources, etc. for if it *didn't* look like that. Who knows - maybe it did and you missed out.
If the item was a disappointment you still had recourse. Instead you got punished for taking bad advice.

Robert Messenger said...

Hi notagain. That idea did cross my mind, I must admit. However, $81 was a lot to spend on what I already knew: it wasn't a P1, it was at best an Optima Model 34, and there's absolutely no way I'd waste $80 on a Model 34 - they're the sort of crap Robotron machines I give away. The fewer Robotrons that darken my door the better I like it. See the Imperial 34 (that's the same machine) on Will Davis's Australian pages.

Machines of Loving Grace said...

"The Richard-Alan P1" would make an excellent name for an Army tank.

(Betcha thought I was going to say "rock band".)